THE TRUTH IS, anybody can take excellent fishing photos.
With modern point and shoot technology, such arcane concepts as “reciprocity
of exposure” and the algebra behind camera stops have become unnecessary for
the taking of good pictures. Most photographers starting out today can afford
a point and shoot digital camera. With so many new photographers in the game,
displays of pictures and fish are becoming increasingly common. What is not
becoming common, however, are good pictures.
Think about it. How many pictures have you seen of fish so washed-out you
can’t see the scales being held by a guy whose skin tone is “three days dead”
for every shot that might have belonged in a magazine? The ratio may be 100
The following tips and tricks will help you improve your fishing pictures.
Trick #1: A Picture is What You Make of It
Throw out the idea that a picture records reality. It isn’t true, and too
many photographers object that photo editing “makes it not real.” Every time
you select a subject, you create an unreality. You point the camera, you define
the edges of the box your audience sees. Would you include an ugly automobile
in a shot of a pristine mountain valley when you could simply move the camera
an inch to the right? No! But the automobile was there. Is the mountain valley
any less real? Of course not.
A fishing picture is exactly the same. Just because the light wasn’t favorable
at the time, or a power line crossed the shot, or an angler’s hat shaded her
face, that doesn’t mean you must portray these things in your picture. Remember
that and keep an open mind about your options.
Trick #2: Fill Flash
Fill flash is the most important trick an outdoor photographer can possess.
If your subject is wearing a hat and the sun is directly overhead, how would
you want her eyes to appear? Dark and shadowy, or bright and sharp? The only
way to get light up under that hat brim is to put it there yourself, and fortunately,
that little flash on your camera is just the ticket. Too many snapshooters
misuse flash, blowing out subjects at night and relying on available light
in the day. Flip this misconception on its head.
For night subjects, use no flash and a tripod and a long exposure, or if
you must use flash, select the “Slow” or “Rear Curtain” options on your camera’s
flash menu. Slow and Rear Curtain flash allow the camera to take in ambient
light before flashing the subject, so your target is lit, but the background
doesn’t look like a cave.
In the daytime, use your flash full out. You won’t blow out a subject with
bright sunlight about. If you’re lucky enough to have one of the new digital
SLRs, trust the camera to meter the source and provide the correct amount
of flash. Review those pictures! If the shot didn’t turn out with a full flash,
turn it down, or if you can’t, cover part of the flash up with a finger.
In the daytime, nothing makes an animal’s eye standout like a little glimmer
of reflected light. Can’t get a flash bright enough on the scene? Don’t be
afraid to add that glimmer later. Dodge tools in photo editing programs lighten
areas, and I have added the bird’s eye’s glimmer in the following shot.
Trick #3 Tic-Tac-Toe Composition
Composition is a tricky problem all in and of itself. The worst thing a
photographer can do is to always center every subject. The ancient Greeks
understood that certain shapes are more appealing than others. Audiences haven’t
changed much since then. One easy rule of thumb is the tic-tac-toe board.
Imagine a tic-tac-toe grid across your image. The image is divided in thirds
both horizontally and vertically. When shooting animals, its hard to go wrong
placing a subject’s eye directly on one of the points of intersection. Horizons
often look better placed on either the upper or lower divider line. Some cameras
even include this grid as a display option.
Don’t be afraid to break this rule if the subject interests you, however.
A horizon at the bottom of an image can make a breathtaking spectacle, while
one right at the top of the frame can draw the eye to a line of mountains,
Trick #4 Aperture and Shutter Speed
Aperture and Shutter speed are generally over-discussed, but it is interesting
how many ordinary snapshooters still don’t understand the concept. I am not
going to try to do what has already been done better, but suffice it to say
that larger apertures (and since aperture is a fraction, f/2 is much larger
than f/22), let in more light, and small apertures (again, like f/22) let
in less. One effect of this difference lies in depth of field, or the zone
at which your image goes foggy. Large apertures, like f/2, leave you with
a very shallow depth of field, which is great for zooming in on a subject
and leaving the rest of the picture blurry. Small apertures give a much deeper
depth of field, meaning everything from the guy with the fish to the mountains
miles off his shoulder will be in focus. Play around with these settings and
pay attention to what you get.
Trick #5 Point and Shoots Make Great Macros
Digital point and shoot cameras are often fantastic for macro photography.
Technically, “macro” used to mean that a lens was capable of producing a subject,
say a mayfly, life-sized on the sheet of film. If you took a picture of a
mayfly at macro setting and 1:1 zoom, then held the slide up next to the mayfly,
the bug and its picture would be the same size.
Digital point and shoot cameras usually don’t come with enough lens to actually
make a 1:1 ratio, but it doesn’t matter nearly as much, because the lenses
on these cameras are so small anyway. My Fuji FinePix 40i has a lens size
of 8.3mm, or less than a third the size of your average 35mm lens. Because
that lens is so small, even if the camera can only manage a 1:3 physical ratio,
where the reproduced image is 1/3rd life-size, the small lens and the small
chip that corresponds to it makes the point and shoot a better macro outfit
than some professional equipment costing many times more. Plus, those small
lenses can focus almost on top of a subject, meaning you can just about count
the scales on a mayfly’s wings if it will only stand still long enough. Finally,
macro-setting defaults to a very large aperture on every camera, so your subject
will automatically be one of the only things in focus, making for some very
Trick #6 Digital Saturation.
Modern Point and shoot cameras have a tendency to render a subject very
washed-out and gray. With film, this would be a problem of underexposure,
but with digital cameras, the likely culprit is your white balance. Try manipulating
the white balance settings on your camera to create a warmer tone.
However, even with the proper white balance, your camera will sometimes
turn out some gray shots. This is because digital cameras are calibrated to
average the bright and dark elements of your shot to create a mythical 18%
gray curve. What that mumbo-jumbo means is the camera will cost you some color.
Don’t despair! For film-like effects, especially for film such as the excellent
Fuji Velvia Professional slide films, try bringing your pictures into Picasa,
the free Google editing program, and increasing saturation. Usually 15-20%
will be enough, and don’t overdo it or your images may turn out looking like
they were taken on Mars.
Trick #7 Darken the Blacks
Many new digital users complain that “digital doesn’t look like film.” This
is true. Digital pictures lack grain, are less contrasty, and may lack sharpness
due to lower-quality lenses. These are NOT problems inherent in digital images
per se, but rather symptoms of the consumer-oriented design of these cameras.
To make your digital images look more film-like and professional, adjust the
color balance. In Picasa, you can adjust general balances and sharpness. In
better programs like Paint Shop Pro and Photoshop, both of which are available
to consumers, you can adjust Selective Color. The most dramatic effect you
can get with selective color is to darken your blacks. You will lose a lot
of detail in the shadows when you do this, but film usually did this anyway.
One of the characteristics of Fuji Velvia is how quickly it drops off to black
at the low end of the spectrum. Are these pictures accurate representations
of reality? Hell no! But they sure look fine.
Trick # 8 Know When to Sharpen
Knowing when, and when not to, sharpen is probably the most important skill
in photo editing. Sharpening ruins detail, significantly degrading the quality
of your image. Many times, it isn’t even sharpness you want to add, especially
not over the whole image. Experiment with brightness and contrast and deepening
your blacks or your shadow tones before you sharpen. In fact, make it a cardinal
rule to always sharpen last. This will do a lot for your images, because you
will apply the other edits with the most available data.
Trick # 9 How to Shoot A Fish
Fish pictures seem to just ruin photographers. You’ve all seen the classic
Grip N Grin, where the fish is held at arms length at the camera and there’s
no telling how big it really was. The other chief sin is the “lay it next
to the rod” shot. Nothing looks deader than a fish laid on the bank next to
a rod. Add a bright fill flash and bingo: a dog’s dinner.
Fish pictures deserve some special consideration, because fish are 1) a
lot smaller than you (unless you’re catching marlin, you lucky dog) and 2)
shiny. The average American man weighs somewhere between 180 and 200 pounds.
A trophy trout might weigh ten, or just five to eight percent of the man.
Keep this in mind. Don’t be afraid to hold the fish out away from your body
if you need a fish shot, but don’t stick it right up in the photographer’s
grill either. But consider this: no matter how good the Grip N Grin, the fish
is always going to be smaller and less detailed if a person must also fit
into the shot.
Why not try macro shots right up against the fish instead? The chief rule
of photographing animals is to always leave their eyes in the picture. Stick
to this rule unless photographing tails, which have a certain beauty of their
own. Remember too that a fish is a water creature. The best trophy shots are
the ones taken underwater, but if you don’t have an underwater camera handy,
do the next best thing and place the camera at water level, with the fish
just under the surface or just out of the water.
Because fish are shiny, you need to be careful with fill flash. The best
shots still require it, but turn the fish’s body slightly away from the camera
so as not to bounce all that flash back. Use a polarizing filter to cut the
natural glare of scales (and skin!). Don’t be afraid to try crazy angles,
like “sighting down the fish” or just the fishy mugshot. Keep the light behind
you and pay attention to your aperture: ideally nothing but the fish should
be in focus to help add depth and dimension (and to keep from giving the audience
an exact idea how small he was!)
Trick # 10 Camera Protection
The last of these tricks is how to protect a camera in a wading environment.
The number one rule is never take a risk that isn’t worth the result. If the
water is falling but you’d rather be across now, consider waiting to give
your gear a chance. Stow point and shoot cameras in watertight containers
like a Ziploc baggie or a tight neoprene case. Consider investing in a water-resistant
model for the vest pocket.
If the worst happens and your camera gets a dunking, DO NOT TURN IT ON.
You have a chance to dry your sensitive electronics out so long as you don’t
fry them. If the camera was off when it went into the drink, immediately remove
the batteries. Shake out as much water as possible and place the camera in
the sun. Resist the urge to check the camera for two or three days of drying,
being careful to place it in the sun or a hot environment. My Fuji has been
sunk twice. I dried it out both times and it is still going steady.
SLR cameras are harder to protect. My advice is to wear the camera around
your neck, with an arm through the strap so it can slide around to the back.
Also, purchase insurance! My camera and fishing gear policy costs me less
than $20 a month, and it allows me to rest assured that my gear will always
be safe, even if it isn’t. Most insurers offer flood, theft, accidental breakage,
and loss protection.
I hope you’ve found these tips helpful and informative. I’ve enjoyed writing
them, and now I just need to make sure I follow my own advice!